How to Start Journaling | Counseling | Therapy

How to Start Journaling

Ashlyn Karre — Intern therapist

How to Start Journaling image

Dear Diary, how do I start journaling?

Those words may have taken you back to the 80s, 90s, or early 2000s. Laying under the blankets at night with a flashlight writing in your diary about how great your day was because your crush looked in your direction, or how terrible your day was because your sister ate the last waffles for breakfast before you got up.

Writing in a diary as a preteen seemed so effortless. We could sit down at night before bed and write out our deepest darkest secrets, then hide the diary under our bed. How do we bring back that zest for writing now? How do we make it benefit us? But most importantly how do we make it stick?

Journaling is something people either love or hate. It is something they are really good at doing or something they really struggle with. Some people can sit down and pour their heart out onto multiple pages, and they make it seem so effortless. Whereas, some people have a hard enough time writing down three things they are grateful for or an affirmation for the day. How to journal sounds like an easy question to answer, but not an easy question to enact.

Several of the most common barriers to journaling are:

  1. Not having enough time. There is not a mandated amount of time someone has to spend journaling. It can even be broken up throughout the day.

  2. Feeling overwhelmed by the idea of journaling. It can be daunting to start something new, so start off by keeping it simple. Journaling is aimed at reducing anxiety, not increasing it.

  3. Having an “all or nothing” mentality, which is when people tell themselves “I will never be good at journaling, so I shouldn’t do it” or “I missed a day so I should just stop.” It is a negative thought pattern that places beliefs into extremes.

  4. Sometimes when someone has a hard day, they just want to skip their journal, but by journaling they can boost their mood and focus on the positive aspects of their life.

Journaling took the market by storm in 2013 with the introduction of the Bullet Journal and the term “Bullet Journaling” was coined. Bullet Journaling is essentially taking a blank dot grid journal and customizing it to fit your needs, whether you are keeping track of specific tasks, recording your overall mood for the day, or tracking whether or not you took your medications. It can be used as a day planner, a month planner, or a year planner. The point is it is customizable

The downside to that method of journaling is that it can be very daunting. When searching how to journal and bullet journaling Google, Pinterest, and Instagram populate tons of vibrant images with beautiful pages with calligraphy style writing, bright beautiful colors, and intricate page layouts and illustrations, complete with decoupage, stamps, and stickers. While some can find those images inspiring others can find them overwhelming, especially when they are first learning how to journal.

There are countless Instagram influencers who make videos designing their page layouts for the month, the week, or even the day. Many times, those videos are sped up fairly quickly and do not accurately portray the amount of time and dedication these makers put into their craft. There are several companies that create, what is essentially a premade bullet journal, some of those are sold in monthly or quarterly editions depending on how intricate they are, however; chances are you are going to end up with sections that do not get used because it is not important to you to track the temperature of the day and how that correlates with your mood. While that sounds crazy, there are journals and influencers out there that track that. Many of those journals are targeted at women and are flowery, flowy, and pastel.

Apart from companies that make prefab bullet journals there are companies that make journals with a daily quote in it and a blank space below to reflect on that quote. Some journals are even designed with space for writing down three things you are grateful for or daily affirmations. Going to a store to purchase a journal can feel overwhelming, there are so many options, styles, and colors. You may ask yourself “Do I want something with prompts in it? Or do I want just a plain lined journal?” “Do I want something that has a pre-made habit tracker, or do I want to track specific habits?” “Do I want something hard bound or spiral bound?” Those are just a few of the many questions you might ask yourself, however the most important one is “What will help me be successful?”

Journaling, and keeping a record of your thoughts and feelings, supports mental health several ways. Some of which include, reducing anxiety, breaking out of cycles of obsessive thinking, improving your awareness and perception of events, regulating your emotions and encouraging awareness. Journaling does not just benefit your mental health, it also has physical health benefits as well. Some of the physical health benefits of journaling include, decreased blood pressure, improved lung and liver function, and decreased hospitalization duration.

Journaling as a whole can lead to improved psychological well being, fewer depressive symptoms, reduced stress, less work absenteeism, less time out of work following a job loss, and higher student grade averages.

If journaling is something that you are interested in trying but do not know how to start, here are some quick and easy suggestions for how to journal to set yourself up for success…

  1. Start small, list three things you are grateful for. It could be something that happened that day, the day before, something that is going to happen the next day or just anything in general.

  2. Journal first thing in the morning when you get up, even if it is just typing a daily affirmation into your notes app on your phone while brushing your teeth or making your coffee.

  3. Don’t feel like you have to journal daily. Try starting off with a goal of journaling three or four days a week to build up to where you want to be.

  4. When you wake up in the morning, log your dreams, if you remember them, and write down something you are excited about for the day.

  5. If morning is not your best time, do it at night. Again, it can be as simple as typing three things you were grateful for into your notes app.

  6. At night, write an affirmation for the next day on a sticky note and put it next to your coffee pot, or write it on the bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker.

  7. Start your day off with the “1, 2, 3” method. Write down one thing you are going to accomplish during the day, two things you are excited about and three things you are grateful for.

  8. End your day with the “3, 2, 1” method. Write down three good things about the day, two things that could have been better, and one affirmation for the next day.

  9. You do not have to journal in the morning AND the night if you do not want to.

  10. Journaling is not limited to words, doodles, stickers, and pictures from the day are fun to add.

  11. Digital journaling makes adding pictures, animations, and digital stickers very easy to do.

  12. Fun pens make all tasks more enjoyable, splurge on the set of thirty pens in different colors to add more excitement to your journaling.

  13. Check out your local bookstore or Amazon for a guided journal. Guided journals range from giving a broad prompt for the day to more specific prompts or for a targeted audience, for example moms, artists, grandmothers, and gardeners.

  14. There are many journals out there that also include areas for habit tracking, if that is something you are interested in.

Those are just a few steps on how to journal to help you be successful with your journey. Journaling is whatever you make it, the way you journal may look different from a friend’s way, and your journaling may change over time. You might start off with simply jotting down an affirmation for the next day before bed and placing it somewhere you’d see in the morning, after some time doing that, you might decide to add an aspect to it and you start to record what you were grateful for during the day. Journaling does not have to be boring, and it should not feel intimidating or make you uneasy. Your journal can be just lists of words and phrases, it can be “Dear Diary,” or it could even be something big and elaborate you saw on Instagram and were captivated by the expressiveness of it. Journaling is a personal journey, and everyone’s journey looks different. Make journaling a part of your everyday routine, whether in the morning or at night. You’ll soon find yourself reaching for that journal without even thinking about it.

If you’d like to process your thoughts from journaling or learn how to journal for therapy, reaching out to a mental health professional can be a great idea. At the Center for Growth we have therapists that can provide more support as you navigate through your own personal journey. If you would like to begin counseling please reach out to 215-922-5683 x 100 or schedule directly online. For your convenience, we have five in-person offices and can also provide counseling and therapy virtually.

InPerson Therapy & Virtual Counseling: Child, Teens, Adults, Couples, Family Therapy and Support Groups. Anxiety, OCD, Panic Attack Therapy, Depression Therapy, FND Therapy, Grief Therapy, Neurodiversity Counseling, Sex Therapy, Trauma Therapy: Therapy in Providence RI, Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, Mechanicsville VA